July 5, 2009

US Department of Ed Implements an Unexpectedly Instructive New Program

Monique Chartier

Admittedly, yes, he is in part motivated by a lust for federal gold. But this factor in no way abated the fury of certain former supporters of Mayor Thomas Menino (D!) when he announced last month a volte face support of charter schools as a means of achieving education reform in Boston.

The speech took aim at the lack of progress in dozens of low-performing, inner-city Boston public schools, many of which have not met adequate yearly progress for five years running.

"To get the results we seek -- at the speed we want -- we must make transformative changes that boost achievement for students, improve quality choices for parents, and increase opportunities for teachers," Mr. Menino said. "We need to empower our educators to quickly innovate and implement what works." With that, Mr. Menino abandoned nearly two decades of personal opposition to nonunion charter schools, which have been bitterly resisted by Massachusetts teachers unions and their political allies. "I believe that the increased flexibility that charters provide can . . . help us close the achievement gap," he declared.


All teachers and paras interviewed this week feel betrayed, given that his plan to forcibly charterize 51 schools indelibly labels those schools as failing and, further, shows no confidence in our schools' ability to improve. Many staff at the 51 targeted schools feel especially betrayed by the mayor, who has often touted their school in personal visits and public displays of support.

What triggered this hubbub in the Hub? Again from the Wall Street Journal.

Political pressure, most notably from the Obama administration, which has explicitly linked charter-school expansion with access to $5 billion in new education reform funding.

"States that don't have the stomach or the political will, they're going to lose out," Education Secretary Arne Duncan told the Associated Press recently. "That's $5 billion, b-i-l-l-i-o-n, up for grabs," moaned Mr. Menino in an interview with me. "I've gotta sit here sucking my thumb because I can't get reforms?"

... er, at the moment, yes, Your Honor. But thank woo for asking a good question.

On the one hand, it is tempting to question the wisdom of this $5 billion in new education spending. It is not clear why the federal government should pick up the slack left by too many school committees, which for decades have negotiated and executed contracts bereft of any mention of academic achievement. This approach has resulted in significantly increasing America's spending on public education with little corresponding trend in student achievement.

At the same time, this expenditure has thrown into sharp contrast two philosophies espoused by teachers' unions. How does one reconcile claims made on certain occasions that actions advocated are in the best interest of "the children" with the organization's zero tolerance for merit-based compensation? By very reasonably linking additional funding to student-centric education reform, the US Department of Education has inadvertantly provided an interesting glimpse to a usually distracted public into the motive of an organization which, it appears, is reluctant to permit its words to become policy. Such an insight will prove useful when voters weigh the propaganda and merits of candidates and budget referenda at polling time.

Thanks to commenter MikeinRI for pointing out {edit} a local development to Marc's post.

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Boston has a long sad history of using schools as the engine of social change. Those with memories long enough will recall how busing there was used to destroy the "neighborhood school", along with many Boston neighborhoods. The ensuing "white flight" devastated Boston, even while politicians and city workers moved to the West Roxbury neighborhood and erected walls around it. For years children were bused to and fro all over the city, and to distant suburbs. All the while the teachers union steadily increased its power. At the same time, the Catholic parochial school system increased to a size rivaling the city system. The parochial system operated with less than 1/3 of the "aides, administrators and staff" required by the public system.

After years of failure, it was discovered that the hated "neighborhood school" was the answer so long as it was not called such. It was reinvented as the "walk to" school. 10-15 years of attempts at "walk to" schools have not yielded the results hoped for. Children and parents continue to flee Boston schools. Desegregation is no longer an issue as it would require a microscope to find a white child left in the Boston schools. The Boston flagship "Boston Latin" has been successfully sued for racial bias. Although it is an "exam school" it has admitted giving admission to low achieving minorities at the expense of higher scoring non minority students. The same judge who forced busing on Boston schools heard that case, he forced a "settlement" rather than face the inevitable finding of "racial bias".

Now we have discovered the "Charter" school. I strongly believe that its adoption is in response to a desire to break the back of the teacher's union. This is not an unholy desire, but I fear children and education will still take a back seat. Nonetheless, I wish them luck.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at July 6, 2009 12:27 AM

Back in the 1960's there was a common phrase" "if you aren't part of the solution, you're part of the problem."

Not only are the teachers unions not part of the solution, they are the single greatest impediment against undertaking any solution.

From a societal standpoint, there is no justification for their existence.

Posted by: Tom W at July 6, 2009 8:19 AM
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